- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 7, 2002

Buried deep in a recent New York Times story is a rather astonishing passage that shows how recklessly unserious we truly are about national security.

Under the headline "Retarded immigrant strives for independence," reporter Arthur Bovino notes approvingly that 21-year-old Kareen Dupervil, a mentally retarded Haitian woman "with a first-grade reading level," has applied for a job as a baggage handler at La Guardia Airport in Queens, N.Y.

The Times writer tells us Ms. Dupervil "took a test at the airport with two other mentally retarded adults Though Ms. Dupervil did not pass, the trainer who gave the test called [her job counselor] to encourage her to study and try again." Thanks to help from the Brooklyn Bureau of Community Service, a government-funded charity that provides disabled and "undocumented" persons with employment assistance and is supported by the Times's Neediest Cases Fund, Ms. Dupervil will be tutored "for the test twice a week. She will take the test again in a few months."

And she will take the test again and again, presumably, until she passes or sues under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act to get the job. Only the best and the brightest security professionals at our nation's airports .

The Times article reports that Ms. Dupervil "likes to cook spaghetti" and "likes to smile," by the way, but fails to inform us on the basic fact of whether she is even here legally or not. So much for the new and improved New York Times. But let's do as the Times editors always do and leave Ms. Dupervil's immigration status aside.

According to national guidelines, federal baggage screeners are supposed to demonstrate the "ability to distinguish objects on the screening equipment monitor, distinguish colors displayed on screening monitors, conduct metal-detector and pat-down search procedures, and 'efficiently and thoroughly' manipulate baggage; be able to read, speak and write English well enough to carry out instructions; read identification cards, airline tickets and credentials; provide directions and answer questions to travelers; and write incident reports, statements and log entries."

Private airline baggage handlers who work on grounds crew teams are not only responsible for heavy lifting. They must be able to operate ramp vehicles, forklifts and other ground equipment. They also have access to plane cabins and cargo holds, and can bypass checkpoints and metal detectors with highly coveted identification cards that open locked doors in top-security areas throughout the airport.

Handling and screening baggage are not rocket science tasks, but how is someone with a first-grader's reading comprehension supposed to do the job and demonstrate the vigilance against terrorism, bribery and incompetence required in a post-September 11 world?

Should these responsibilities and privileges be entrusted to individuals with nice smiles but who can barely understand a Dr. Seuss tale?

It is not entirely clear from the Times article whether Ms. Dupervil applied to be a federal airport baggage screener or a private airline baggage handler at La Guardia. Either way, we're in trouble when we have airport security test administrators so pathetically desperate or exceedingly cruel that they're calling up mentally challenged individuals who flunked the eligibility exam and enticing them to retake it.

This irresponsible lowering of public safety standards reminds me of poor Robert Jordan. He was the man who applied to be a police officer in New London, Conn., but was turned down because he scored too high on a standard intelligence test. When he sued, a federal judge rejected his discrimination claim and ruled it was reasonable to reject people who score too well on screening tests.

Mr. Jordan lost the case, but the police department received nationwide scorn. Mr. Jordan thought he had the last laugh. "Jay Leno made up this great song," he recounted after the ruling. "The theme music was 'Dumb cops, dumb cops, whatcha gonna do, whatcha going to do with a low IQ.' "

Now we know. The slow and the witless can line up for airport security jobs, smile brightly, flunk until they pass their tests and reap the rewards of the continued dumbing down of America.

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